Portales officials: Water demand led to restrictions

Argen Duncan

City officials have reiterated that they can’t ban firework sales or use, and said water demand exceeding supply has led to the recent water restrictions.

The statements came at a town hall meeting on questions and concerns about fireworks and water Tuesday in the Memorial Building. Officials and citizens have expressed concerns about fire danger from fireworks, and the city recently banned most outdoor watering and car washing.

“Of course, the drought has the majority to do with it,” said Mayor Sharon King of the water situation.

City Manager Tom Howell said city wells produce 5.4 million gallons of water per day, but residents are using 6 million to 7 million gallons or more per day, depleting reserves. Last July, the city used 3.7 million gallons per day, he said.

Howell said water usage per capita and for industry is down.

Besides serving Portales residents, the city sells water to the Roosevelt County Water Cooperative. Howell said the cooperative’s demand hasn’t increased much.

Water restrictions aren’t helping the reserves because some people refuse to follow them, saying its their water and they’ll do what they want, Howell said.

“And it’s not just your water; it’s everybody in the community’s water,” he said. “We’re all going to have to suffer a little bit.”

Howell said the current restrictions would be lifted when water levels in storage tanks developed a pattern of rising and not dropping much. He said the city needs a reserve in case of a fire or other large demand.

The city is installing two new wells, which Howell hopes will be ready in two weeks, to help meet demand.

For the intermediate time frame, King said, the city needs to buy more water rights. The Ute Water Project is the long-term answer, she said.

Former Mayor Orlando Ortega Jr. said the city needed to drill more wells despite the cost to stay ahead of the demand.

Howell said the city is looking at tying existing wells into its water system. It will finish paying off a bond that cost $400,000 a year this year, so that money will be available next year, he said.

In response to questions about raising water rates, especially to encourage compliance with restrictions, King said the city would only get more water with more money and rates would have to be raised.

Replying to other questions, Howell and King said residents can use water from their own wells without affecting city water, and for gardens, they can hand-water or use a light stream.

King said rumors of a ban on showers and a lack of water pressure to fight fires were untrue. People are allowed to shower, and fire trucks create pressure for water they spray.

As for fireworks, King said state law prevented local governments from banning the use or sale of fireworks. Local governments can ban some types of fireworks and limit where they’re fired, she said.

King said trained professionals would conduct the Roosevelt County Chamber of Commerce fireworks show, and firefighters and police officers would be on hand.

“So what I would do is urge everyone to come to the big show, the one that’s so much fun anyway,” she said.

King asked citizens not to shoot fireworks, but to buy them and save them for a less dry time.

If people don’t buy fireworks, she said, fireworks stand owners will lose money unless they don’t have arrangements to send back what they don’t sell.

“But we’ve got to look at what’s good for the whole, not just the individuals here,” she said.

King urged listeners to ask their legislators to change the state law to allow local governments to ban fireworks in extreme droughts.

If fireworks start a fire and the person whose property burns can prove negligence, King said, the person who shot the fireworks is liable.